How to stay motivated (and stop procrastinating) while learning Dutch

Lately you may have had a lot of spare time and you still can’t find the motivation to learn Dutch? Or maybe you’ve finally sat down with your textbook, and are already browsing DutchReview for a bit of light-hearted procrastination?

No judging at all. We’ve all been there.

Luckily, avoiding your textbook may just have helped you out this time, because the following article is for you. It includes five super-simple avenues you can explore, to increase mindfulness — and will hopefully inspire you to not necessarily study harder, but to do it with a lot more purpose.

“I’m just not good at learning languages”

Yes, I’m taking aim at native English speakers here.

When we take our first breath outside the womb we don’t immediately strike up a conversation with our parents, fluently, in our mother tongue:

“Hello, there. An absolute pleasure to finally meet you both.”

No, we learn it as a child. Now, you can bring up neuroplasticity and why it’s easier as an infant, but let me ask you this: have you ever met a child before? They often have an attention-span that makes a goldfish look like a veteran scholar.

If they can do it, then you can too. So do yourself a favour, and stop believing that excuse.

Find your reason

If someone asks you why you are learning Dutch, and you cannot come up with an answer that convinces even yourself, then there’s your problem.

A lot of our procrastination comes from our emotions. You can procrastinate from learning by drawing up an amazing, structured weekly plan (again), but if your heart isn’t in it then you will go around in unproductive circles.

To speak to your Dutch boyfriend’s / girlfriend’s family? For work? It is usually for pragmatic reasons rather than pure love for the language, so the trick is to find a way to do it because you want to, not because you feel you have to.

Try to find passion in the process of learning a new language, acquiring a new skill, or from challenging yourself — these are all things for you. Just be honest with yourself.

Two-men-chatting-in-order-to-practice-and-improve-their-Dutch-for-work
When learning a language, it’s all about practice. Image: LinkedIn Sales Solutions/Unsplash

Set the benchmark low

Yes, you read that correctly.

People usually start by jumping in the deep-end — being ultra-enthusiastic and unrealistic. It works for some people, but is often not sustainable at all. Learning a language requires consistency.

However, expert Tim Pychyl says, “Once we get started, we’re typically able to keep going. Getting started is everything.”

Well, sort of, Tim.

Picture this: you set yourself half an hour with your textbook and after five minutes time seems to slow down in a way that even the most gifted of quantum physicists can’t explain. Oh look, you’re on Instagram — how did that happen?

So why not five minutes (no, seriously) every day on Duolingo. If Tim is right, five minutes may turn into a relatively painless ten, or fifteen. If you feel like doing more — do more. If you don’t, then it is only five minutes of your day. Power through it. After all, thirty-five minutes a week (plus the consistency of daily learning) is more than nought minutes per month.

22 x 5 minutes = more than nothing. Image: James Bogué

Self-awareness and experimentation

Let me be clear: there are many, many brilliant and inspiring teachers out there, and a variety of incredible courses. But everyone learns differently, and has different motivations.

For many of us, school did a great job of stunting any passion or confidence for languages, and a main consequence was to grow up believing that there was only one way to learn them. Which just so happened to be incredibly slow and dull. Taking two months to be able to say you wake up at six and clean your teeth just isn’t going to cut it when living abroad.

So experiment, explore, and find what works best for you.

Likewise, be aware of when you are most likely to lose motivation. Identify the cue for a bad habit, and change the routine slightly to avoid it and keep on track with your session. (For more on that, I highly recommend introducing yourself to Charles Duhigg!)

Practice, practice, practice

Simply put: use it.

If you are putting time aside to learn a language and then not using it then what’s the point? We all sound stupid at first, we all make mistakes. Get used to it — but you really are not alone.

If you genuinely can’t summon up the confidence, then while washing the dishes or brushing your teeth have little conversations in your head. Link up new words, practice that quick formation of sentences and being creative with limited vocabulary. It sounds absolutely crazy, but you can build up that fluency without the anxiety and embarrassment.

Additionally, try reading articles online, listening to the radio, using Dutch subtitles on Netflix, and looking at memes — it doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s Dutch! Surround yourself with it as much as you can.

READ MORE | 7 ways to learn Dutch fast and easy: our best tips to learn Nederlands in life

 Success!

What are your top tips for avoiding procrastination when it comes to learning a language? Drop them in the comments below! 

Feature Image: FirmBee/Pixabay

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in April 2020, and was fully updated in July 2021 for your reading pleasure.

James Bogué
An Englishman fascinated by Homo sapiens and their cultures, and by extension the influence of politics, history, and psychology. But his absolute favourite? The perils of miscommunication (four words that accurately describe his journey with the Dutch language). Besides writing, he enjoys running, cycling and thinking about his next meals; and aspires to write a bestseller and speak at least ten languages.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Dutch is about a much use as Welsh, Icelandic or Maltese in the Modern World.

    In fact Dutch it is a Dying Language…

    Do you remember Latin ???

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